How to Score a Memorable 40 MPG Ride for Under $1000

Step 1. Have your Dad troll Ebay and Craigslist frequently for any automobile with a maximum price of $999. Search keywords such as "Chevette" or "Chevette Woody" are extremely useful. "Pontiac T1000" is a good one, too.

Step 2. After winning the Ebay auction, drive south with your Pops to collect his prize. In this example, it is a rare 1976 Chevrolet Chevette Woody with under 78,000 miles, a 4 speed gearbox, 4.10 gears, high output (60 hp) 1.6 liter engine and factory A/C. The car is located in St. Louis and spent most of its life as a tag-along toy pulled behind an RV. There is very little rust on the car, and it does run...but not very well. It also does not all. We'll fix those things. The main thing is getting it on to the trailer. A working emergency brake will do the trick.

Step 3. After chatting with the seller and refusing his offer for a pitcher of beer at 10:30 A.M. on a Saturday morning, load your Dad's prize onto a rented U-Haul trailer. Make sure this is done in sweltering summer heat, like ridiculously hot weather.

Step 4. Safety first! Double-check your trailer safety chains and give U-Haul's ratcheting tire straps one final click before taking off. There's absolutely no chance that these will loosen up on the way home and cause your 2,000 pound hatchback to dance like a Mexican jumping bean on the open road. No chance whatsoever! Seriously, double-check those chains.

Step 5. Tow your Dad's stylish new treasure back to his garage. See the Girls Gone Wild RV on the interstate on the way home. Feel uncomfortable and then mash the accelerator of the tow vehicle to quickly get around this thing.

Step 6. Once home, begin the maintenance and tune-up regimen. New master cylinder, new carburetor, new brakes, battery, belts, hoses, tires and the like. Have the local shop fix a relay and recharge the A/C system and voila! Now you've got a car for all 4 seasons.

Step 7. After the mechanicals are fixed, turn your attention to the interior. Coax your wife or Mother to stitch up any torn upholstery and work on getting the seats and carpet clean. This may take a while, and may involve foamy shampoos and buckets of nasty water but its worth it. This is time well spent. Use SEM's vinyl spray dye and interior trim paint to revive the faded 70's plastic and make things stand out a bit more.

Step 8. Using whatever Meguiar's car care products are on the shelf to polish and improve the car's original lacquer finish and chrome trim. Be careful not to blow through the delicate paint because then you'll see delicate primer popping through. Once replace any pitted trim with cast-aways from where else, but Ebay.

Step 9. Since its a 1976 Chevette, find a set of bicentennial plates and hang them on the car. This is the final step in the restoration process.

Step 10. Cruise around for a few years and enjoy the fruits of your labor. While getting 40 miles per gallon, make funny faces at the people in newer $35,000 hybrid cars because you're getting the same fuel economy out of a high-output rally car with a 4 on the floor, and vintage houndstooth interior.

Chevettes Need Your Help!

I could go on and on about the General Motors T-cars but not many people would want to read that. I'll sum it up by saying the story you have read is based on my Dad's summer car rescue project of 2007. The '76 Chevette Woody was the third Chevette to cross paths with the Scott family over the years. My parents bought a brand new blue 2 door '78 Chevette shortly before I was born, and a brown '84 Chevette CS 4 door sedan when I was just a kid. I remember riding along in that car in the winter time, playing on the icy parking lot with my Dad and laughing at the world going around and around while the tiny car skated on the ice. I also remember it in the summer months, without air conditioning...particularly in the Atlanta heat wave of 1987 while we were stuck in traffic on the way to Florida. Oh well, we survived. We also got good mileage.

For as simple and homely as they were, the Chevettes delivered thousands of miles of dependable service. Today they remain the butt of jokes and are seen as comical. Some refuse to call them 'Chevrolets' due to their platform sharing with Opel and Isuzu. Others grab them and stuff Buick V-6's or small block Chevy engines into them and flog them on the dragstrip. I guess that's okay since they're still being used, but their tiny Isuzu-built 1.4 and 1.6 motors would run forever just as they were. The diesel Chevettes...not so much but that's another story.

You see, when you rescue a Chevette, everyone will know you, everyone will remember you, and you may even hear stories of Chevettes that hold a warm spot in someone else's life. Casual gas station fill-ups yield 10 minute conversations about the past and how bad the 1970's and 80's were. Or a quick trip to the corner store will draw people to the parking lot to discuss how rarely Chevettes are seen nowadays and what good cars they actually were.

Dad's Chevette was loaned to my brother Kyle, who drove it 450 miles a week to work for a year and had a good time with it. It was eventually relegated to in-town service and then given back to Dad once work brought him to a city where cars weren't needed. The car was eventually sold to a dealer in Minnesota who intended to paint and re-woodgrain the car as it was starting to show its age. But the darn thing ran like a champ and always was fun to drive. It was the biggest go-kart ever built and I'd love to find another to work on. Dad occasionally locates one and against our better judgement we may repeat our success with the '76 soon.

My advice to everyone: Rescue a Chevette. 

They pop up for sale now and then and they're always cheap. Grab one and find it in your heart to give it another chance at life. You'll be helping the environment because you reused something efficiently instead of tossing it away. I promise one of the biggest grins in the world once you take the little Chevy for that first spin around the block, and you just might get a few grins back in return.



Popular Posts